How to Build a Winning Tournament Lineup
Hello, Agigas here! I am a Master player on both EU and NA since beta with several #4 peaks, but most of my success in LoR comes from tournaments: I have won DoR EU #2, DoR NA #13, and the invitational Fight Night NA #5, and I made a total of 12 tournament top cuts to-date.
Before every tournament, I spend hours to find the best lineup, and I think this is a big part of my successful record. With the first Seasonal Tournament coming soon and the LoR Esports taking off, I thought it would be a good time to do a guide about how to build a tournament lineup. If you’re planning to participate in a Seasonal Tournament (or another tournament with a similar format) – or if you just want to understand how players build their lineups – I hope this guide will give you everything you need! 😄
I wrote this article with Legends of Runeterra Seasonal Tournament format in mind (3 different decks with no duplicated champions, no duplicated region combination, and no more than one championless deck), but you can use it to learn about lineup-building for other tournaments too as long as the formats have similarities.
Below I will be covering many facets of lineup-building theory, but I will also be providing concrete examples to make it all easier to understand. If after reading the example you still have questions, or if you want to give me some feedback, I’ll be happy to answer you in this dedicated Reddit post!
Table of Contents
- Building a Lineup
- In-Depth Analysis of Lineups
- Why it is important to build your lineup properly
If you’ve brought a well-constructed lineup to the tournament, you will find yourself in good matchups more often. A proper lineup also allows you to make the most out of the ban phase.
For example, if you’d choose to run both Ashe Noxus and Lee Sin/Zed in your lineup, you’d find yourself in an awkward spot regarding your ban when your opponent has Scouts. This is because the first one of your decks ‘bullies’ Scouts (i.e., has a highly favorable matchup against it), and the second one ‘gets bullied’ by Scouts.
A lineup that isn’t built properly is also more susceptible to get ‘bullied’ by a focused ‘bully lineup’ (see concept explained below). By choosing to run decks that all have very different weaknesses, you immediately endanger yourself against a variety of lineups that are made to attack either one of those weaknesses. You want to limit the number of weak spots you have and angles you could be attacked at.
As a last note, remember that while it is important to make a cohesive lineup and have a clear plan in mind, it is also crucial to bring decks you’re comfortable and well-practiced with.
- Key prerequisite to understanding lineups: in-depth matchup knowledge
Matchup spreads are very important when it comes to understanding lineup-building, and this knowledge is also extremely useful when you decide what to ban. Always try to improve and learn about as many matchups as possible to understand the tournament lineups better.
- Building a lineup can take a lot of time
Finding a fine lineup can actually be pretty quick once you have an idea if you know what you are doing. However, if you want to go deep into it and test all the most interesting options, it will take a lot of time. I personally often think several hours about lineup possibilities before deciding what to bring to a tournament.
Building a Lineup
3 basic types of lineups
- Bully Lineup: consists of decks that are all strong against one or several popular meta decks. This way, if the opponent has the targeted deck in his lineup, you can ‘bully’ him on that deck. Each one of your own decks will have a favorable matchup against it and the opponent can’t protect it with a ban.
- Ban Lineup: decks that are weak against a particular deck or a type of decks. This way, you can ban that deck and eliminate the threat that all of your decks have in common.
- Flexible Lineup: consists of the decks that have mostly even matchups across the board. Flexible lineups are often a choice when the pilot has big confidence with certain decks. However, don’t think that “flexible” means just 3 ‘good decks’ – it means the decks that have even matchup tables without particularly bad matchups among popular decks.
- Protect X Lineup: Most flexible lineups deviate into a ‘Protect X’ lineup – they choose 2 ‘flexible’ decks with even matchups and 1 ‘polarized’ deck that has both good and bad matchups – and ban the weak matchup of the polarized deck. (Alternatively, you could also pick 1 flexible deck and 2 polarized decks that have common weaknesses). Protect lineups end up being a common variation of flexible line-ups because it is hard to find 3 flexible decks that could beat any matchup. Moreover, having 1 polarized deck in the lineup to make the most out of the ban phase is also valuable.
A lineup doesn’t have to strictly adhere to only one of these categories – the best lineups often are more complex and can combine several of these categories at the same time. Also, remember that you can’t predict every scenario, so no matter what your plan is, you want all decks in your lineup to be strong decks that you are comfortable with, so you can still score wins against unexpected lineups.
3-step thought process
- Step 1: Coming up with an initial idea
A lineup often starts with an idea: often there’s a deck you love and want to build around, or sometimes a popular deck exists that you look to bully, or there could be a deck you don’t want to play against… Once you get that initial hunch, you can start to build around that.
- Step 2: Finding the right shell
You have your starting point – now let’s look for the best shell to realize your idea. You could search for decks with common strengths to make a bully lineup – in fact, you’ll often start by looking into this if you have a strong meta call (i.e. you know there’s a very popular deck you can easily target). Alternatively, you can look for decks with common weaknesses to set the foundation for a ban lineup. And if it is a flexible deck you want to bring, see if some variation of a flexible lineup could be built upon it.
- Step 3: Tuning the shell for additional synergies
Once you progress into your thinking, try to see if you can add more synergies into your lineup. You can create a ‘double bully lineup’ (all 3 decks have good matchups against 2 common popular decks), a ‘double ban lineup’ (less interesting, but still valuable), or – quite often – a ‘bully and ban lineup’ (all 3 decks have a common strength AND a common weakness). There’s no limit to creativity and things can get quite complex.
Among other types, flexible lineups are often the most straightforward ones to build because it’s often the result of the confidence that you can beat pretty much anything with a specific deck. The thought process is often something like “I’m really confident I can beat anything with Veimer. Now I just need 2 more decks.”
Note: Keep in mind that this 3-step process is not some rigid algorithm you should always follow – it’s rather meant to be a useful heuristic. In its essence, lineup building is a creative process, and you’ll often find yourself jumping back-and-forth between steps as you look for perfect pieces to the puzzle.
A tournament is coming and I know I have been very convinced by Soraka/Kench lately. I want it in my lineup. However, I am afraid of its bad matchups: Ashe Noxus, Fearsome Aggro, and decks with Landmark removal.
I could try to find other decks that are weak to some of the mentioned decks as well, and so build a ban lineup. I know that Ashe is very popular, and also that Scout and Fiora/Shen are weak to Ashe. So, I could go with Soraka/Kench, Scout, and Fiora/Shen – and ban Ashe when my opponent has it!
It already sounds good, but let’s look even further: Soraka/Kench and Fiora/Shen both have a good matchup into Scout. Would it be possible to have a 3rd strong deck that would have both a bad matchup against Ashe and a good matchup against Scout?
It is! With Demacia Invoke as your 3rd deck instead of Scout, all 3 of your decks have a poor matchup against Ashe, making it an easy ban, and also have a great matchup against Scout, making it a great target to bully.
This lineup is both a bully lineup and a ban lineup – and plays 3 strong decks! In fact, this lineup won a Community Tournament recently in the hands of CatAsUs. Of course, you can keep exploring, and find some other lineups around that idea. This is just one possible line of thinking among many others!
❗ BUT: In the example above, let’s say you’re not comfortable with Demacia Invoke but like playing Scout a lot. In that case, go for comfort. This lineup is already quite cohesive, and winning the Scout mirror is very manageable. It is more important to go with 3 decks you’re confident and comfortable with than adding a few lineup synergies. Moreover, you could tech your Scout deck to have a favorable matchup in the mirror!
Tuning decks in your lineup
You should optimize the decks in your lineup based on the overall strengths, weaknesses, and general plan of the whole lineup.
The most common mistake in this area is unknowingly optimizing against decks you’re going to ban. If you take a stock ladder list to the tournament, it will probably be tuned to have a shot against everything – even against the unfavorable matchups. In a tournament environment, you can ban those matchups instead, so do not concede any deck slots to techs you won’t need.
Another way to optimize your decks is to tune them to beat the matchup(s) you are targeting. It is especially effective if you play a bully lineup and one of your deck isn’t that oppressive for the matchup you are targeting, so can use tuning in this area a lot.
All in all, optimizing your decks to make them fit your strategy is very valuable. However, your first priority should be always on having a strong deck that is still cohesive against a wide field.
Another important point about deckbuilding for a lineup in this format is the power of surprise. When the tournament has closed decklists, adding unexpected cards to your deck has a lot of value – your opponent will have a hard time playing around them. Having unexpected cards has also added value during the ban phase. Having an unconventional build of a deck can significantly change your matchup table, and your opponent might end up doing an incorrect ban because of this misdirection.
On the same note, playing an off-meta deck can also be very valuable and can throw your opponent off. He won’t know your build of the deck and how to play correctly against it. It will also make his ban phase much harder because of his lack of knowledge regarding the matchups of this deck.
In-Depth Analysis of Lineups
In this section, I’ll go over some strong lineups that have seen success in community tournaments with the seasonal tournament format. While there are some ideas you can find pretty often in lineups, be aware that the overall lineup meta is very diverse and you can attack the format in a lot of different ways.
‘Bully Scout’ lineup (1st at DoR EU #17, by CatAsUs)
When Scout is a popular choice in the meta, it is often that other lineups emerge trying to bully it. The reason is that Scout is a very strong deck but can struggle against a wide variety of decks. In fact many midrange decks can out-grind it without letting it get out of hand with early aggression.
I went over the reasoning behind the build of CatAsUs’s lineup in my example for “3-step thought process” section. Here I would like to analyze the exact builds of each deck to pinpoint the optimizations he made to fit the purpose of the ‘bully Scout’ plan and to have a good matchup against aggro in general.
In Soraka/Kench, 2 Hired Gun and 1 Solari Shieldbearer are very strong choices against aggro, while the 1 Starshaping can be a surprising Burst speed heal when they try to land the final blow. Lux/Asol goes with the 3 copies of Blinding Assault to make sure Radiant Guardian is activated as soon as possible. It also runs 2 copies of Judgment to punish any wide attack. Finally, Fiora/Shen features 1 copy of Spirit’s Refuge and, the most impressive adaptation, 3 Radiant Guardian! This lineup is a very good example of adapting the decks to synergize further with the lineup’s strengths.
Triple Aggro lineup (2nd at DoR EU #17, by Owiiiii)
Lineups featuring 3 decks with the same philosophy are interesting because the decks often have common good and bad matchups. Among these “triple X” lineups, triple aggro is the most popular idea. But be careful, playing triple aggro doesn’t mean jamming 3 random aggro decks together – you should still have the rational idea behind the line-up you’ve chosen! For example, if you play triple aggro with the idea of bullying Ashe Noxus, Scout is probably not the aggressive deck you want to play! However, if you want to play triple aggro with the intend of punishing more greedy decks, Scout can be a nice inclusion.
In the example at hand, we can clearly see the intention to go for speed and burn damage. All decks play Noxus, and the only one to not run 3 copies of Decimate is Discard Aggro – however, it can generate Jinx’s Super Mega Death Rocket – a better, 1-mana Decimate. This lineup preys on decks that don’t have a ton of healing, and Ashe Noxus was probably one of the main targets. The decks in this triple aggro lineup have also a common big weakness to Frejlord/SI control, making it an easy ban.
‘Protect the Kench’ lineup (5th at Gem’s Tournament, by Agigas)
As explained before, ‘Protect X’ lineups are often conceived by selecting 1 or even 2 flexible decks that the player is confident to win most/all matchups with. Then, it can be rounded up with a very strong but polarized deck that you will be able to protect through the ban phase.
This is a lineup I built to play in last week’s Gem’s tournament and piloted to a 5th place finish. It is also important to mention that this tournament had open decklists (you know every card in your opponents decks).
Here is my reasoning behind the building of this lineup. As a well-known Karma addict, I wanted to play a Karma deck in my lineup. Lately, I have been impressed by Karma Invoke and it has become one of my favorite decks, and I’m confident to pilot it against any matchup. This makes for a solid foundation towards a flexible lineup: I am choosing a deck that doesn’t need a ban to protect it, and I now just need to find 2 other decks to complement it.
Then, I thought about Nightfall because it is also an archetype I’ve been playing a lot with recently and that I’m confident to take into most matchups. It has some slightly unfavorable ones, but even against those, I feel like I can still take the win – so I didn’t think this deck would demand ban attention. My lineup is still pretty flexible, and I just need one more deck.
After that, I looked for a very polarized deck, because I knew I could use most of my bans to protect it specifically. Soraka/Kench was a perfect fit – it is very strong, polarized and the one I have plenty of experience with – it is the deck I climbed back to Master with on my main account! Now, I have a very good ‘Protect the Kench’ lineup, featuring 3 decks I’m comfortable with. I also thought about taking Veimer as a more flexible deck instead of Nightfall, but I was not trained enough with Veimer at that time so I went for comfort in Nightfall.
This lineup also has the upside in that it plays a lesser-known off-meta deck! Karma Invoke is a pretty rare archetype so most players are not trained against it and do not necessarily know its matchup table. Furthermore, my version is pretty unique as well.
When I put everything like that, it sounds pretty simple. But to be honest, it wasn’t, and before choosing that lineup I spent an entire day wondering what I was going to play, went through a lot of ideas that weren’t convincing enough to me – before eventually settling on this one. Sometimes good ideas come a lot quicker, but often you have to dig quite deep before you finally find an idea that really excites you.
That’s all about tournament lineups! I tried to stay concise and clear while giving you the tools to create your dream lineup, I hope this guide will be helpful! Be aware that building lineups is also a skill, and the more you’ll practice the easier it will get to go deep into it and find hidden gems. 😉
If you have any question left or if you want to give some feedback about this article, I will be very happy to read and answer you in the comments of this dedicated Reddit post! 😄
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Thanks a lot for reading me, GL & HF!